The Court of Appeal has, today, handed down its decision in the important case of Beart v HM Prison Service.
The case had previously reached the Court of Appeal on liability. This Court of Appeal hearing deals with damages.
Mrs Beart was discriminated against, on grounds of disability, by not relocating her after she suffered from depression. She was then dismissed, on grounds which the tribunal found to be plainly unfair, because of a suspicion that she was working whilst on paid sickleave.
The tribunal awarded a six-figure sum for disability discrimination. The Prison Service appealed (to both the EAT and the Court of Appeal) on the basis that its act of unfair dismissal was an intervening act, and so the damages for loss of earnings arising out of the disability discrimination should stop at the point where the unfair dismissal statutory cap would have been engaged (which was, at the time, £12,000).
The Court of Appeal, upholding the ET and EAT decisions, dismissed this submission in scathing terms (paras. 30 onwards). Rix LJ, giving the leading judgment, said that an employer cannot rely on its own act of unfair dismissal to limit the compensation otherwise payable for disability discrimination. He stated that the Prison Service had committed two discrete wrongs, both of which warranted compensation, in respect of which statute has provided a cap for one but not the other (para. 34).
The ratio of the case is best encapsulated at paragraph 50, where Wall LJ holds:
"I share the puzzlement expressed by Rix LJ at the proposition that an employer...could escape liability for acts of disability discrimination by relying on a further wrong committed against the employee, namely that of unfair dismissal."
Beart v HM Prison Service